Dealing with the Project You Hate Part I: Understanding Avoidance

When I was suffering through my dissertation, I went through a series of delusions about other potential careers. These included high school teacher, personal chef, rapper, and stand-up comic. In retrospect, practicing my rhymes was just a glorified way to annoy loved ones and to avoid the project I had come to hate.

Many of us have one – a project that starts near the top of the priority list each Monday and magically slithers to the bottom by the end of the week. It gets derailed by hot tasks, urgent errands, favors for friends, and cleaning the bathroom. This is the project that seems to physically propel you out of your seat each time you sit down to work on it (e.g., “Shoot – I just remembered I need to clip my toenails. I’ll just do that real quick, Google myself, make a snack, and then get down to business.”).

Sure, sure, some of you are delightfully motivated go-getters with no proclivity toward procrastination. How lovely to be you. For the rest of us, here are a few tips I have learned to help understand and address avoidance:

  1. Acknowledge the Problem and its Source. Develop a bit of insight into why the project is taking so long to address. What is the real issue? Perhaps it’s boring, or maybe it’s something more – feeling out of depth? Worried that you don’t know how to proceed? Afraid of letting someone down? A good way to figure out your emotional roadblocks is to write down the automatic thoughts associated with the project. What are the first thoughts that pop into your mind when you think of this project? Now consider what these thoughts tell you about your motivation.
  2. Visualize the Finish Line. Let’s travel to fantasy land for a moment… The trees are made of candy, unicorns are pooping rainbows, and your project is done. Ahhhhh. Isn’t that nice? This is how you could feel all the time if you just got this paper out the door. The key here is finding internal motivation instead of just external (more on this later this month).
  3. Find your Inner Sith Lord. So you hate the project. That’s okay. We’re grown-ups; we don’t always get to work on just the fun stuff. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, imagine Emperor Palpatine standing over your shoulder saying, “The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger.”

Now tear that dissertation/manuscript/grant proposal a new one!

Tune in next week for Dealing with the Project you Hate Part II: Tools to Achieve Mediocrity